Separating Sense from Sound

by burgdoerferp

As people today listen to the music of Richard Wagner, they are often presented with the challenge of separating the controversial opinions of the nineteenth century composer from the musical dramas he is famous for composing. After many of Wagner’s writings, including “Jewishness in Music,” revealed the composer’s narcissistic, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic views, his music became less popular, and today it is very rarely played on a large, public, scale.  However, what I found most interesting was that in addition to what we studied in class, the hesitation to perform Wagner is also deeply rooted in the political reputations of his family. Wagner’s descendants today manage the Bayreuth festival in southern Germany. The festival hosts viewinsg of private film footage from the reign of Hitler, yet the Wagner’s family connection to the Nazi party has never been made public. Wagner’s daughter-in-law, Winifred, was at one time involved in relations with Adolf Hitler, and the Wagner clan was very close with the Nazi dictator as well. Hitler made it clear during his lifetime that Wagner was his favorite composer, and it is thought that he may have borrowed from Wagner’s “Jewishness in Music” to fuel his anti-Semitic thinking. Although Gottfried Wagner has condemned “his ancestor as a deeply unpleasant character,” the rest of the Wagner family has yet to speak of their ties to the Nazi leader (Connolly). For the family of the famous composer to remain tied to such a horrific leader is tragic, particularly for the sake of Wagner’s music dramas. Today, fans of Richard Wagner must work “to separate the man and his music” (Connolly). The question to be answered is whether or not this diminishes the value of his works, as characteristics such as the length of the performances are highly correlated with Wagner’s egotistical personality. I have attached Kate Connolly’s article below, as it originally sparked my interest on the Wagner family and the controversies associated with the clan. I highly recommend that you read it!

I also attached the clip below from The Rise of Evil, and I think that it is worth contemplating whether Wagner was tied to Hitler by choice, whether Hitler took it upon himself to connect with the composer, and whether it matters!